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By Michael Gryboski, Mainline Church Editor

The Southern Baptist Convention has delayed a decision on whether to remove Rick Warren's Saddleback Church from the denomination in light of the California megachurch's ordination of three female pastors last year.

Saddleback Church's ordination of the three pastors last May in what the church called a "historic night" drew the ire of many in the largest Protestant denomination in America in light of the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message statement's ban on female ordination.

Some called for the congregation to be disfellowshiped from the convention over the ordination of — Liz Puffer, Cynthia Petty and Katie Edwards.

The SBC Credentials Committee, tasked with handling concerns about whether churches that cooperate with the convention are abiding by the SBC standards of faith and practice, announced Tuesday at the SBC Annual Meeting in Anaheim, California, that it would delay a decision on Saddleback's standing.

"Based on the information available to us currently, including direct communication with Pastor Rick Warren, ... we have concluded that we are not yet prepared to make a recommendation regarding Saddleback Church, recognizing there are differing opinions regarding the intent of the office of pastor as stated in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000," Committee Chair Linda Cooper told meeting attendees.

"We feel it is very important for you to know that it is the unanimous opinion of the Credentials Committee that the majority of Southern
Baptists hold to the belief that the function of lead pastor, elder, bishop or overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture."

But Cooper noted that the committee "found little information evidencing convention beliefs regarding the use of the title of pastor, for staff positions with different responsibilities and authority than that of lead pastor role."

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler was among the critics of the ordination, writing in a 2021 column that he considered it "contrary to Scripture."

"This is no longer a point of tension and debate. These moves represent an attempt to redefine and reformulate the convictional foundation of Southern Baptist faith and cooperative ministry," wrote Mohler.

"The theological issues have not changed since the year 2000 when Southern Baptists spoke clearly and precisely in the Baptist Faith & Message. More importantly, the Holy Scriptures have not changed and cannot change."

At last year's SBC annual meeting, a motion was offered to break fellowship with Saddleback over the ordination, with the measure being referred to the SBC Credentials Committee.

Warren, the popular author of The Purpose Driven Life who had recently announced his retirement from Saddleback Church, addressed the convention floor. He said that he would not defend himself at that time.

Instead, Warren focused his Tuesday remarks on how he believed the SBC had positively influenced his ministry over the decades and warned against divisiveness.

"As Western culture grows more dark, more evil and more secular, we have to decide are we going to treat each other as allies or adversaries?" Warren stated.

"Are we going to keep bickering over secondary issues, or are we going to keep the main thing the main thing?"

The Credentials Committee initially recommended that the SBC messengers vote during the meeting this week to create a study committee that would report to the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting a "recommendation to provide clarity regarding the office of pastor."
Some leaders, including Mohler, voiced opposition to the idea of creating a study committee.

"If we eventually have to form a study committee over every word of our confession of faith, then we are doomed and we are no longer a confessional people," Mohler said to applause from the crowd.

The Credentials Committee rescinded its recommendation for a study committee after Warren addressed the meeting. It's unclear when the committee will make another recommendation regarding the original motion.


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